This coming Tuesday, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day (NCOD), where we in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community celebrate our coming out and offer support and encouragement to those who are still closeted. The process of coming out is one of bravery, courage, faith, and hope. It is a deeply personal decision that belongs to the individual. It is never a one-and-done decision. From conversations with colleagues to banal banter with the checkout clerk, the decision must be taken over and over. For some in the LGBTQ community, this proves easy. For many, however, there are moments when it can be hard to deduce how safe we are coming out, so we go back in the closet. We say partner instead of husband/wife or we let a comment pass without speaking up.
LGBTQ Americans have greater equality than ever before. Yet, for all our gains, we still have many steps to take as we progress towards full equality. It's still perfectly legal to fire someone for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. While the Department of Housing and Urban Development has offered some level of protection against housing discrimination, a new HUD Secretary could reverse these. Transgender men and women still face a barrage of attacks, ranging from bathroom bills to parity in health insurance. In 2016 alone, there have been 21 trans women of color murdered. When Attorney General Loretta Lynch affirmed that the government sees trans Americans and stands with them, we in the LGBTQ community inched one step closer to the equality we are working to gain.
We still have so far to go. That's why NCOD is as important today as it was when it was started almost 30 years ago. Harvey Milk implored us in the 1970s to come out at home and at work, for we couldn't ever hope to be heard if we stayed invisible. Things change when our numbers can be counted. Increased visibility, we hope, translates into greater understanding of our community and the issues that we face. It's in being seen that we can be heard, and we understand that.
We also understand the inherent risk we take in asking to be visible in a world that can be hostile to our very existence. We grieve heavily for those 49 beautiful souls lost and the over 50 wounded at Pulse nightclub earlier this year. Some were not yet out to their families; some came to the nightclub with their families. But all were outted after the shooting. For many of us, ally and LGBTQ alike, their deaths will not be in vain. It will be a part of our collective story about how, one warm June evening, they decided to come out—literally to the nightclub and figuratively to the world—and share a night of dancing and socializing. One man tried to silence their voices, but he failed, because he didn't account for the legion of us who will carry them in our hearts and tell their stories.
All of us have a role to play. We can offer support to those who come out to us. We can offer encouraging words of support. We can lead by example and call out homophobia and transphobia when we encounter it: every time, with a strong voice resolved to beat back oppressive and hateful rhetoric. These actions in collective create the kind of place where everyone feels comfortable coming out. And they create a world in which NCOD isn't necessary anymore because it's taken for granted that everyone can come out as they are.
I'd like to say a few things to mark NCOD. To my out brothers and sisters: I'm so glad you came out. You and your bravery are beautiful. For all the LGBTQ allies, thank you for your love and support. And to those who haven't/can't come out: you are loved. Never despair because there's a community out here and, when you're ready, you'll find your place with us. Happy NCOD everyone.
Adam Ragan is the Associate Director of LGBTQ Initiatives at the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (or) (520) 547-6171.